OTTORINO RESPIGHI: Belkis, Queen of Sheba Suite; The Pines of Rome [TrackList follows] – Minnesota Orchestra/ Eiji Oue – Reference Recordings Mastercuts 200gr. vinyl RM-1509, 24:02, 22:39 *****:
A pair of lavish Technicolor tone poem creations from Respighi—one extremely well know and up against much competition, and the other only the second recording of the rare ballet suite by the composer, presented for the first time with the movements in the correct order and with a tenor solo in the fourth section of the suite. The performances are also available on a Reference Recordings HDCD issued in 2002, which also includes the Dance of the Gnomes, which had to be omitted from the vinyl transfer due to space restrictions (and which is not part of the Queen of Sheba Suite anyway).
Respighi’s idea was to depict musically four areas around Rome which feature the pine trees found thruout the eternal city. Oue brings out all the wild tonal colors and passion of the composer’s widescreen musical extravaganza, and uses extra brass and pipe organ to do it. This seemed to fit in mighty well for me, listening to it right after having viewed the 3D Pompeii movie. The Roman might really comes to a musical head at the conclusion of “The Pines of the Appian Way,” making me believe perhaps this is another selection which could be cut onto the disc from inside to out, as Tacet has done, with the big climax at the outer rim for the least distortion.
The composer’s ballet/opera on Belkis did not do well, and he tried to condense some of the music into a more manageable size, but died before he completed the task. We have four movements here, and the general theme of the work is the exciting visit to King Solomon by the beautiful Belkis, the Queen of Sheba. It must have been difficult selecting the specific music from the immense original ballet score to arrange for the suite. It starts with a rather nebulous “Solomon’s Dream,” then Belkis’ “Dance at Dawn” in which she dances in honor of the rising sun in her garden, after receiving Solomon’s invitation and looking forward to the visit. A frenzied “War Dance” follows (though one doesn’t know who’s going to war with who), and finally the concluding “Orgiastic Dance,” featuring tenor Chad Shelton and plenty of percussion. This is fantastic orchestration and impressing sonics that are of demonstration quality. Engineer Keith O. Johnson’s efforts on this got a Grammy nomination for the Best-Engineered Classical Album. Also lovely artwork on the LP cover and plenty of space inside for detailed notes in large enough print to actually read.
Pines of Rome = The Pines of the Villa Borghese, The Pines Near a Catacomb, The Pines of the Janiculum, The Pines of the Appian Way
Belkis, Queen of Sheba – Suite = Solomon’s Dream, The Dance of Belkis at Dawn, War Dance, Orgiastic Dance